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Posted on Oct 8, 2007 in Armchair Reading

A question that I have

By Kevin Cook

I have been a reader of your magazine since the beginning and in that time I am constantly disappointed that as a military history magazine with professional writers you and your writers continue to refer to the American War of Independence as the Revolutionary War. It was not by definition a revolution but a war for independence. A revolution is when the parent government of a country is overthrown. This was not the case during this war. The parent government of England remained in power in its parent country of England. The Americans were colonists and declared their independence from the English government, our government  has a document stating this. Please, as a historical magazine that I have come to enjoy since the beginning correct this by calling it what it was, Independence not Revolution. Thank you.


Kevin Cook, Woodridge, IL.

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Dear Mr. Cook,

Thanks very much for your email and thanks also for reading Armchair General magazine.  We appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject of the "American War of Independence" vs the "American Revolutionary War," although even  serious scholars of the subject seem conflicted about which one ought to be the proper term. British historians tend to favor referring to it as the "American War of Independence" (presumably for the reasons you have mentioned), while many (but certainly not all) American historians use "Revolutionary War" or "American Revolution" in their book titles.

Respected historians of the era, such as Robert Middlekauf and David McCullough chiefly favor "American Revolution/Revolutionary War", while others, including, perhaps, America’s best-known historian of the era, Don Higginbotham, use "War of Independence".

A quick review of the terms’ usage in our government reveals much the same split. The Library of Congress’ collection of documents of this era is labeled "Guide to the American Revolution," yet the U. S. Army Center of Military History titles its bibliographical collection "Bibliographies of the American War of Independence." The U.S. Military Academy’s history department, the most prestigious group of military historians in the Army history system and the producers of the acclaimed "West Point Atlas" battle map series, uses "The American Revolution" in their volume’s title of the conflict and individual maps refer to the "American Revolutionary War."

Some authors just hedge their bets, using both terms in book titles (such as the Library of America’s volume on the era’s writings, which is titled "The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence"). As another example, the official website of Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, home of a great new Washington museum, uses "revolution, revolutionary, and rebellion" in describing the Continental Army commander in chief’s experiences during the war.

Given the wide usage of both terms to label the same event, it would appear that any effort to force the use of one term over the other is likely going to be an uphill battle. Rightly or wrongly, it seems clear that we’ll continue to see both terms used nearly interchangeably.

Jerry Morelock

Editor in Chief, Armchair General magazine